In short, Alzheimer's disease is memory loss. Alzheimer's occurs when there are uneven levels of communication chemicals in the brain, one of them being acetylcholine. Then, the brain tissue disintegrates and forms plaque and tangles. Alzheimer's cannot be properly diagnosed until an autopsy is performed when these plaque and tangles are found, but neurologists can give an approximate diagnosis using MRI and neuropsychological tests. This method is accurate about 90% of the time.
This disease leads to forgetfulness, trouble completing day-to-day tasks, and confusion. Researchers don't even know the causes, but some risk factors may be age (65+), head injury, family history, and simply genetics. The most severe cases are found in people over the age of 65. Because of this, someone once asked me if they called it Alzheimer's because it sounds like "old timers". However, Alzheimer's can start at the age of 40-50 at the stage called early on-set Alzheimer's. In this stage, symptoms are very minor and are mostly not noticeable.
Alzheimer's can affect a person in many ways. In the later stages it takes a physical toll with weakened muscles, slow reaction time, and loss of coordination. The mental and emotional effects are quite obvious with loss of awareness, wandering and getting lost, confusion, and memory loss. It can also affect a person socially with forgetting friends and family members name, lack of interest, loss of motivation, and just not wanting to do anything all day. Living with Alzheimer's is a struggle, not only for the person who has it, but for the family, as well.
There is no cure for this disease yet, but there are treatments. There are two drugs approved by the FDA to treat some symptoms: Cholinesterase inhibitors and Memantine. Also, there are some non-drug approaches that may help such as: change of environment, providing extra safety and security, and being flexible and patient with this individual. Alzheimer's disease is the 7th leading cause of death. Since it is incurable thus far, researchers are furiously searching for a cure. One way to help is to donate to the Alzheimer's Association or to participate in the Memory Walk.
Alzheimer's disease is not preventable. It will almost always end in death. Eventually, the plaque and tangles mutate your entire brain and you are unable to do anything at all. What makes Alzheimer's so terrible is the fact that it is progressive and cannot be reversed. It goes through about 11 stages before death. If you know someone who has memory loss or some of these symptoms, please contact a doctor. Alzheimer's is serious and the earlier diagnosed, the better.